Matt Lewis is a columnist for The Daily Caller, The Daily Beast, and The Week, and his book Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots) is available for pre-order at Amazon.
He spoke with me for 15 minutes about how he thinks the GOP lost its way and how he thinks it can change. One particular example Lewis has written about is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who ran a short-lived presidential campaign, whom Lewis said is “too smart to win.” While he graduated from Brown with honors and then from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and had a prodigious early career, Lewis said he dumbed down his message in order to try (and fail) to win the GOP base. (Even though, after the 2012 election, he said the GOP needs to “stop being the stupid party.“)
I asked him what he thinks distinguishes Ted Cruz, who has two Ivy League degrees but does a much better job appealing to the base, from Jindal. His answer:
Ted Cruz is also very academically accomplished. He’s an Ivy Leaguer [cum laude from Princeton, magna cum laude from Harvard Law School]. He simultaneously does throw a lot of red meat. My theory is that Ted Cruz is more comfortable pandering, that Ted Cruz is more shameless. It doesn’t bother him to adopt this persona where he basically tells the base what they want to hear. I don’t think that Bobby Jindal was comfortable with it. I don’t think he did it particularly well. Maybe that means Jindal is a better person. I don’t know.
It’s not just book smarts. Lewis said it ultimately comes down to appealing to new demographic groups and people with different cultural views:
America is becoming more urban, more cosmopolitan. The Republican coalition is not able to deliver anymore. The Republicans have lost the popular vote in five-out-of-the-last-six presidential elections. So I think it’s important to keep the conservative base on board, certainly, but also to appeal to different sorts of Americans. For example, millennials, urbanites, who haven’t always traditionally been conservative or part of the Republican base, they aren’t inherently hostile to conservatives, but culturally, they don’t see themselves as conservatives.
Look at Marco Rubio: He’s very conservative, but I think he comes across as cosmopolitan, as more thoughtful. … If your whole strategy is to pander to the base, then it is going to be harder to win the support of the guy who lives in a city and rides an Uber and manages his stock portfolio on a smartphone. That guy should be voting for conservatives, too, he just doesn’t know it.